Iggy and the Stooges Ready to Die Album Review
Ready to Die Album Background
Iggy and the Stooges Ready to Die album comes exactly forty years after the release of their classic Raw Power. With James Williamson’s aggressive yet inventive shredding and Iggy at the top of his game, Raw Power set a high standard that few bands ever got close to. Iggy and the Stooges themselves can’t even get close Raw Power, so it’s worth stating from the off that this Ready to Die album isn’t anything like Raw Power. However, whereas the dense atmosphere of the Stooges first two releases couldn’t be matched on their 2007 release, The Weirdness, Raw Power’s slightly more traditional rock n’ roll perhaps gives the band a broader base from which to relaunch.
Ready to Die is the second attempt Iggy and the Stooges have made at a comeback. The reformed Stooges line-up of Iggy Pop with Ron Asheton on guitar, Scott Asheton on drums, Mike Watt on bass (replacing original bass player Dave Alexander who died in 1975) and Fun House saxophonist Steve Mackay got together in 2003. The resulting record, produced by Steve Albini, was universally panned but in retrospect, it wasn’t the stinker some would have it. How could it reach the same levels as The Stooges, Fun House or Raw Power? Expectations were undoubtedly too high for The Weirdness and it’s worth mentioning that Iggy Pop solo has released some forgettable music in his long career since The Stooges.
Perhaps the passing of Ron Asheton in 2009 and the overwhelmingly negative response to The Weirdness should have ended The Stooges for good but Iggy and the Stooges have survived bad reviews and death before. As with the transition from Fun House to Raw Power back in the early 70’s, Iggy reacted to the commercial failure of their second album by replacing Ron Asheton with James Williamson on guitar. Forty years later, The Stooges once again became Iggy and the Stooges and James Williamson again proved an able replacement for the elder Asheton brother.
I was fortunate enough to see the Ron Asheton version of the Stooges in 2005 in London and James Williamson with Iggy and the Stooges in 2009 at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Both shows proved that whatever shortcomings the new material highlighted, the band was a formidable live act. Although both shows belied the band’s age, the 2009 show eclipsed the earlier performance. It was hard to believe that James Williamson hardly played his guitar for thirty years and that he had recently retired as senior vice-president of technology standards at Sony.
Iggy and the Stooges would’ve been forgiven for just playing the old stuff live while they could still pull off such a consistent show almost every night. I say almost because I saw them put on a tepid performance at a festival in 2011 in Newcastle upon Tyne. There where also rumours that the band would revisit the wealth of material recorded in demo form and on live bootlegs from 1973-1974. This material was released after Ready to Die by James Williamson with a number of guest vocalists on the Re-Licked collection. Clearly Iggy had enough of the Stooges by this stage and worse was to follow with the passing of Scott Asheton.
Even if the The Weirdness wasn’t that bad, it added nothing to The Stooges legacy and expectations were markedly lower for its successor. Iggy and the Stooges Ready to Die album presents a clearer and more honest representation of where Iggy and the band are at this state of their lives and is better for it.
Ready to Die Songs
The Ready to Die album doesn’t try to imitate or even pick up where Raw Power left off. The songs are concise and compact and delivered with aplomb by the band, led by James Williamson on guitar. The difference between Ron Asheton’s work on The Weirdness and James Williamson’s guitar here is evident, taking the band in a different direction once again as it did in the 1970’s. Scott Asheton and Mike Watt’s rhythm section provide a chunky base for the searing but mid-tempo songs.
The music has more to do with the criminally underrated 1977 release credited to Iggy Pop and James Williamson, Kill City. It’s a largely retrograde step from Kill City but comparisons to that record are more justifiable than early Stooges. In spite of its many flaws, Ready to Die has several high points.
From the very start, Burn highlights James Williamson’s composition skills and demonstrates that engineering’s gain was very much rock music’s loss when Williamson decided on his career change. The guitar work doesn’t have the fury of his Raw Power era but then again, Williamson’s work on Kill City and Don’t Look Down from Iggy Pop’s New Values album showed a more considered approach. There is no mistaking the skill involved in the multi-layered approach and you can’t help but wonder what James Williamson might have achieved in music if he hadn’t swapped the guitar for calculus. Here is a three-dimensional musician, more than just an axe-man, capable of great song writing, composition and arrangements as well as being a very capable performer. He is supported ably by the contributions of Mike Watt and Scott Asheton on this track. Iggy too plays his part on a strong opening track.
Sex & Money
Sex & Money is reminiscent of Penetration from Raw Power. It features some strategically placed hand claps and high-pitched backing vocals that act as a counterpoint to Iggy’s somewhat gargled vocals. Lyrically, this is not Iggy’s most sophisticated effort with lines like “nipples come, and nipples go”. A continuation of the direct dumbing down of the lyrics that added to everything that was wrong with The Weirdness.
Job is another song from the Ready to Die album that harks back to Iggy and the Stooges golden period. This time the riff is very similar to Loose from Fun House. The Stooges hail from Michigan and perhaps the song is inspired by some of the thankless jobs they did in the past to make ends meet. If Iggy appears to make a complaint about his career prospects here, maybe it’s a comment on the being a member of Iggy and the Stooges. After forty years of influence to achieve legendary status, it’s interesting to consider that the band’s commercial profile is no better today than when they crashed and burned in 1974.
One of the strongest tracks on Ready to Die is Gun. A discussion on America’s gun culture and attitude to violence. Iggy’s commentary is underpinned by yet more strong musicianship from the band. James Williamson displaying his virtuosity with some searing multi-tracked riffs. Once again, however, the riff sounds a little recycled. This time Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell from Raw Power that gets plundered. The sentiment is reminiscent of My Idea of Fun from the Weirdness but here Iggy sounds tongue in cheek rather than attempting (and failing) to threaten.
“Hang on to your girl ‘cos this is an unfriendly world” is the advice offered by Iggy on the gentle Unfriendly World, one of the more subtle, introspective moments on the Ready to Die album. Here, we find James Williamson in acoustic mode and Iggy contemplating some hard lessons learned. This is not a song you would expect on an Iggy and the Stooges record like Raw Power but wouldn’t be out-of-place on Kill City.
Ready to Die
The title track reflects the theme of the Ready to Die album, i.e. Iggy finally admitting that he’s to old for this and perhaps a nod to the band’s age and the loss of Ron Asheton. Iggy has also claimed the title was inspired by a story he heard about a group of pensioners who plotted to blow up a waffle house. This could also explain the cover art featuring Iggy with dynamite strapped to his chest.
As with The Weirdness, the weaker moments on the Ready to Die album come when Iggy lets his standards drop. DD’s is the perfect example of this where Iggy discusses at embarrassing length his mammalian interests. Lazy lyrics like “I’m on my knees for those double-D’s” suggest that Iggy really couldn’t be bothered with this one. Iggy’s talents or otherwise as a lyricist have been the subject of some debate over the years. He’s capable of much better than this and at his best he’s capable of interesting and intelligent work with genuine moments of humour. His presumed attempt at humour here makes him come across as a dirty old man on a track that should have been left off the final product.
Dirty Deal sounds a little uninspired at first but soon gathers momentum into an attack on the record industry. It sounds like both Iggy and the Stooges are having fun here and Iggy’s voice delivers the lyrics with a convincing snarl.
Beat that Guy
“I’m running out of space / I’ve run out of time” is Iggy’s confession on the second of three ballads on the Ready to Die album. Another admission that the Iggy and the Stooges of old are drawing to a close. Moments like this stand out as the most honest part of the record as you get the feeling that the subjects of the cruelty of modern living and mortality are where Iggy’s interests now lie.
The Departed closes the Ready to Die album in touching style. A whispered acoustic lullaby and a tribute to Ron Asheton, the song is bookended by the riff from I Wanna Be Your Dog from the Stooges first album. The song is reminiscent in style of David Bowie’s Where are we Now and sees Iggy walking down memory lane. He name checks songs from his own past in the lyrics, “ this nightlife is just a death trip” and “serious talk’s no fun”. The Departed addresses mortality and given that Scott Asheton passed away shortly after the release of Ready to Die, the song almost certainly draws a close to the career of Iggy and the Stooges. Maybe the song is laying the Iggy Pop persona to rest. If this is to be the last Stooges song then it draws their career to a close with a real touch of class.
Ready to Die Album Conclusion
The Ready to Die album is a continuation of Iggy’s recent releases where we hear Iggy mellow out and consider his own mortality. His Preliminaires record saw Iggy sing Jazz standards in French and the follow-up Apres was another record of acoustic and Jazz covers from the likes of Serge Gainsbourg and Cole Porter. The major development here is that Iggy is now uncovering his sensitive side under the Iggy and the Stooges banner. There is a conflict here between Iggy Pop, the proto-punk legend and James Osterberg, the sixty-something artist for whom his lifestyle has taken a physical toll.
Ultimately, the undoing of the Ready to Die album is that its poor moments will have you reaching for the ‘skip track’ option while its best moments will have you wanting to listen to some classic Iggy and the Stooges. The band still deserve credit for making an honest record with Ready to Die. Iggy sounds grumpy rather than angry but surely chose a wry delivery over rage intentionally to reflect his advancing years. With the exception of Mike Watt on bass (50-something), the other musicians were all over 60 at the time of recording. Ready to Die could never come close to the wild nihilism of Raw Power and while James Williamson’s guitar can still sound menacing, the speed never goes into overdrive. Whereas Steve Mackay’s saxophone sounded insane on Fun House, it’s altogether more considered here.
Iggy and the Stooges Ready to Die was never going to replace the band’s first three releases and makes an admirable attempt at moving in a new, more natural direction for the band. There seems to be an acknowledgement that forced angst would sound absurd at this advanced stage of their lives. For fans, there is an undoubted sense of curiosity in any new Iggy and the Stooges release but once this is satisfied, you probably won’t come back to Ready to Die often. However, if the listener manages to ignore Iggy and the Stooges legacy and accept this album for what it is then they will be rewarded with a solid rock album with a few genuine highlights.
Rated Sound gives Iggy and the Stooges Ready to Die a rating of 6/10.
Ready to Die(2013) Track Listing
2. Sex & Money
5. Unfriendly World
6. Ready to Die
8. Dirty Deal
9. Beat that Guy
10. The Departed